BOSTON — Gov. Charlie Baker will make housing production a central theme of a speech he is slated to deliver to business leaders on Tuesday morning as the governor prepares to file new legislation, possibly as soon as Tuesday or Wednesday, to relax zoning controls in cities and towns.
The legislation the governor is preparing to file will be substantially similar to a bill he pushed hard for last session to make it easier for municipalities to waive zoning restrictions in order to facilitate the production of new housing units.
While that effort was unsuccessful in the Legislature, the governor is hoping to keep together a coalition of support that included the real estate industry, housing advocates and the Massachusetts Municipal Association, according someone familiar with the strategy.
Baker will address the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce on Tuesday at the Westin Copley Hotel where a senior administration official said the governor will discuss "housing and housing legislation." He is also expected to speak about his plan to overhaul the way the state funds public education.
The speech comes just one day before the governor's office has reserved time at the Grand Staircase on Wednesday at 2:30 p.m. for a "housing announcement," according to an official schedule of events for the building shared with the News Service.
The administration declined comment on whether it was planning to roll out the housing bill at a Wednesday event in the Statehouse.
In his second inaugural address in January, the governor seemed to double down on his legislation. Noting that over the past 20 years Massachusetts has produced "less than half" of the housing units that had been custom for the prior four decades, Baker said limited inventory was responsible for driving housing prices "out of sight" and forcing workers to live further away from job hubs like Boston.
"I believe that our housing bill was a strong step in the right direction to deal with this," he said. "It respected the need for communities to plan for themselves, but created incentives to tie development more closely to overarching strategies concerning transportation and land use generally. In the end, it failed because it was too much for some and not enough for others."
"We shouldn't let the perfect become the enemy of the good," Baker said.
Calling for attention to affordability
A senior administration official said that the governor would be filing something that "closely resembles the previous bill."
The bill filed last session would have lowered the threshold for a local government authority to waive zoning restrictions for a particular project to a majority vote. The administration estimated it would lead to the creation of 135,000 new units by 2025.
The bill, however, failed to surface for a vote in either the House or Senate. One of the obstacles it encountered in the Legislature was the desire among some lawmakers to pass a more expansive zoning reform.
Rep. Mike Connolly of Cambridge said late last year that he was looking for any final bill to include an affordability component and tenant protections for renters. He has also floated the idea of making new revenue options, such as real estate transfer fees or new taxes on vacant luxury units, available to cities and towns to invest in affordable housing.
Rep. Denise Provost, another progressive Democrat who had concerns with Baker's bill last session, also criticized the bill's lack of attention to affordability and the capacity for local infrastructure to support a housing boom.
After the legislation known as "Housing Choices" failed to come up for a vote before July 31, Connolly essentially put a hold on the bill during lightly attended informal sessions and asked Speaker Robert DeLeo to keep it in committee until the new session, which is what ultimately happened.
Local zoning, housing starts
If Baker does file a bill this week, it would comes nine months earlier than the point in the last two-year session when he filed his "Housing Choices" proposal in November 2017, giving lawmakers even more time to consider how to move forward.
Any housing legislation will have to first move through the Joint Committee on Housing, which will be co-chaired this session by Rep. Kevin Honan of Boston and Rep. Brendan Crighton of Lynn. Honan is a returning chair of the committee, while housing is a new assignment for Crighton in his first full term in the Senate.
Honan and Sen. Joseph Boncore of Winthrop have filed their own legislation that would require cities and towns to plan at least one district where multi-family housing could be built by right, a mandate that would only apply to municipalities with land within a half-mile of MBTA stations or bus routes that are part of frequently traveled routes.
The Citizens' Housing and Planning Association said that Massachusetts has one of the lowest rates of housing production in the nation, and that local zoning is a key barrier to production.
The Massachusetts Association of Realtors reported this month that the median price for pending home sales in January rose 3 percent over January 2018, from just under $370,000 to $379,000, while the median sale agreement for a condo was up 4 percent, to just under $370,000.